a stolen month

for one full month, I stayed in Jakarta and took CELTA course, a course designed to push people to their limits and asked themselves why did they say yes to this torture – and worse, paid for it. There were 8 of us, came from different backgrounds and were strangers on Day Zero (yes, they do have a ‘day zero). Almost everyday you were put in a state that you weren’t comfortable with. A failed paper that drove me to the edge, Teaching Practices that drove almost everybody crazy, Input Sessions where they gave you brain-food even when your brain was full, pulled an all-nighter almost everyday in our last weeks. All that didn’t include the fact how hard it was to work side by side, to be a team, with someone you didn’t know of.

In that month, I learned so many things. Things that went beyond textbooks and classrooms. I met my nightmares and had to sit face to face with it. I was forced to deal with it because there was just no other ways out. It was horrible. I was afraid and I wasn’t that easily scared, academically speaking.

8 of us came from different background, most of us already had our masters, one had a phd, everybody had experience in teaching, there were 3 Indonesians, but I was the only one who had Indonesian as their first language, the other two had Dutch and Singapore-English/Indonesian. Only one person spoke one language, that was Jodie who speaks English, most of us speak 2 to 5 languages. There’s a guy who worked for UN, another who had theology for his master degree, an international piano teacher, and a principal for a language school. They were smart people.

What happened when smart people were put together and were forced to work together and studied a subject that was an alien to them?


Before they could succeeded in this course, their biggest obstacles was their ego, and please count me in. That month was a slap in the face for each of us. The phd guy said it was harder than phd, the international piano teacher said she was never been this tired her whole life, and my friend Jodie considered that  hit by a bus had a better prospect than walked into the center building.

I think at that time, everybody was facing their own enemy. It wasn’t graded nor had a textbook with it.

Stepping out of that course, I was a bit traumatized. It wasn’t a life-changing moment, but more like a slap to wake me up.

There are so many things I have to learn, so many frontiers I have to break, so many nightmares I have to face. It feels that my journey doesn’t end there. It feels that it has just begun.

A month was stolen from my life, in return, I had a lesson I’ll never forget.


English. To scrap or not to scrap.

I was in the teacher’s room with my other colleagues when David, an Australian who’s been working here for almost ten years, showed me a column from Jakarta Post. Ministry of Education to Scrap English from Schools. I had heard of it before and wasn’t sure how to react. The other were giving comments of how absurd it was (it is) and how decisions that the ministry have made somehow seemed ignorant to what young people need (didn’t sound so strange -this is Indonesia ministry of Ed we’re talking about).

I googled and found an article about the infamous new rule the minister is about to apply to every schools in Indonesia (I doubt that private schools will join in). He said the main reason was that young students, grade 1 to 3 don’t need to be exposed to English when they are actually still struggling to learn their first language, he also said that students need to understand the philosophy of our first language before rushed into English.

I myself, had formal education on English at school when I was in the third grade. I didn’t see it affect me today, or whether it would be better if I had it earlier. Of course, I had extra education from TBI when I was eleven until my college year, I must say English at school wasn’t really helpful. But I was lucky, not everybody can afford that education and had to relay to schools.

But is it true that a young student need not be rushed into new language? Is it bad for their development? So I did another quick research. Here what I found from http://www.learninglinks.org.au

Myths surrounding bilingualism.  There are many myths associated with bilingualism.•  Myth: delays in language are caused by learning a second language.This is not true. Like any other child, a child who is bilingual can have language delays, but learning a second language neither increases nor decreases the chances of having a language delay. •  Myth: it is easier to learn a second language if you stop using your first or home language and concentrate on the new language.The truth is that the stronger the first language is, the easier it is to learn a second language.•  Myth: parents should stop using the first or home language when the child begins speaking a second language such as English.In fact, the best way for families to support children learning English is to maintain the child’s first language at home.Parents don’t have to talk in English to help their child learn English. It is more important that parents use the language that they can use best and are the most comfortable speaking. When they do this they can provide models of grammatically correct sentences and access to a wide vocabulary. Parents should therefore continue to use their first language to talk to their child about everyday activities such as shopping, and share poems, stories, songs, books and games. It can also help if parents use the name of the language (for example, Mandarin or Cantonese), when speaking in this language to their child.

So I found that yes, some students might have difficulties coping with two language in their development process, but it is not the source of language delays. Furthermore, there are some benefits in learning two languages in early age, as quoted from http://www.asha.org

Benefits of Bilingualism Many research studies cite the cognitive-linguistic benefits of being a fluent bilingual speaker. Experts have found that children who are fluent bilinguals actually outperform monolingual speakers on tests of metalinguistic skill.In addition, as our world shrinks and business becomes increasingly international, children who are fluent bilingual speakers are potentially a tremendously valuable resource for the U.S. economy. Most Americans are currently monolingual speakers of English, and are finding more and more that it would be highly advantageous to their professional lives if they spoke a second language.

Interesting point of view, I wonder when the minister talked about our first language philosophy that should be mastered by the students before they actually start learning English (which, by the way, what is it?), did he think about our economy in future time?

I have students in third or fourth grade that speak fluent English, it amazed Rob, a teacher who shares the class with me. I think by the time they’re in my age, they’re gonna be able to give orations or speeches in perfect English. Which, I also realized, our president is not able to do. But on his account,  he might understand the philosophy behind Bahasa Indonesia.

No, no, no. No English for you, kiddos. The cow stays ‘sapi’ until you’re in 4th grade!

Shouldn’t do that, miss..

I was blog-walking yesterday when I stumbled upon an article written by a teacher in America about ethics in teaching. What kind of topics you shouldn’t discuss with your student and things you can’t do as a teacher. I was horrified when I read the list for most of it I had done it! Although some of it I agree with, like: teacher shouldn’t sell material goods in the class, including our written works. I had some lecturer in my uni who told us to buy some books for our reading material (and our assignments would be based on the books), true he didn’t sell it himself but when I got hold onto the book, his name was written as the author. It was so appalling.. (plus, the book wasn’t that good).

The list also says not to be your student therapist and viceversa. I agree with this one too, not only teacher-student relationship, I think every relationship in a work place shouldn’t get too personal. I had session with my uni students about relationship, and they were happy to spill their stories in the group. It was okay until they asked me : what about yours? It’s a bit tricky because I don’t want to look unfair since they told me theirs. But of course they were pretty young compared to me and my relationships way more complicated than theirs, it is tempting to spill some of your relationship things to eager listeners but what the doctor said in her article was true : student might remember this detail years and years after rather than the context of the lesson. So I briefly said, yes I’m in a relationship with a crazy guy that has been my good friend for years. Those little details satisfied them enough. But please no details about the crazy break-ups.

But some that I don’t agree with : teacher shouldn’t accept gifts from students. I love gifts! And I know my students love giving me gifts. Haha. Yesterday I just got a belated birthday gift from my student, a big metal pink flower pendant. So we made a class rule : we shouldn’t forget each others birthdays and try to give a birthday gift. It doesn’t have to be something expensive – better – if you make it yourself. A drawing, a handmade card, anything. 🙂 I think it’s nice if somebody remembers your birthday and actually do something about it. We live in an era where advance communication technology just won’t let us forget every single thing like birthday, so getting a birthday wishes is just common. I still remember the day facebook and friendster don’t exist and getting a birthday wishes in texts or phone calls from friends is just nice. I guess because facebook does that for us now, we should take more effort to show our affections to our friends. 🙂 I say ‘yay’ to gifts. 🙂

Another is: teachers shouldn’t befriend their students. To some extend, I agree. I witness some of my colleagues who just went the distance for their students – I don’t think that’s appropriate. They’re still your students who look up for your guidance, not your friends. But I must say, teachers should be friend for their students. Students in this country, especially my generation and before, who tasted the bitter dutch-military method of educating where corporal punishments was acceptable and when teacher was the general whom you shouldn’t disrespect in any way possible, we grew to hate schools. We found the place was prison-like and the teacher, who were supposed to help us, put some distance with us, made it harder for us to actually learn. I don’t want that with my students, I want them to be able to say what’s in their minds freely to me (in respectful ways, of course), I want be able to help them and be accessible to them when they need me. But I’m not their peers nor their mates, I think I just want to put some new definition to the word teacher. It’s there between friends and parents.

Still on the list : teachers shouldn’t preach about their religious beliefs and political beliefs. I’m not saying that I disagree with this. I found it disgusting how some teachers, preachers, lecturers put their insight into a lesson. I think anybody that has authority to speak in front of people and has the power of being heard have to be really careful about what to say. Religion and politics are two things that considered sensitive and it can be dangerous topic since they are really personal. But I’ve done some debates involving those topics and it went okay, great actually. I guess it’s really important for our young people to accept that being different is okay and if you find friends or colleagues who don’t share the same ideology with yours, it’s healthy to be involved in a debate and learn something from differences. I personally think that it will broaden your horizon and avoid future fanatics.

Overall, I don’t think there are certain ‘commandments’ when you’re a teacher. However, now I’m reading Ron Clark’s book : The Excellent 11 and I like his first : be enthusiastic. Enthusiasm is contagious, so when you are really enthusiastic in what you’re doing, your students can see it, and they become enthusiastic toward the subject too. Not because they love grammar, but because they see how it drives you and want to be part of it.

I was reading the book and at the same time googling and looking for materials for my classes when I remember about my students. How enthusiastic they were and I just felt a sudden joy because maybe without me realizing it, I am enthusiastic about what I’m doing. And they’ve caught the virus. 🙂